Banking and Finance

SSN for International Students: A Step-by-Step Guide

July 27, 2021

Last year there were nearly 1.1 million foreign students enrolled at universities all over the US. That means that over 1 million international students had to navigate the world of finance and banking in the US as they also worked to study and obtain their degrees. That’s no easy feat.

Due to the fact that most banks require a SSN to set up an account, most international students look for information regarding how they can obtain a SSN without permanent citizenship. And, they find the process to be extremely difficult and draining.

Don’t worry, though; there are other solutions. As an international student, you probably actually don’t need a SSN. An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number will work for tax purposes if you plan on working. And, you can apply for a Cheese Debit Card if you need to set up your banking as an international student in the US. 

Read on to learn more about SSNs for international students (and how to get your Cheese Debit Card today!).

What is a SSN?

A SSN is a social security number, which is a nine-digit number that the US government uses to track you for tax purposes. However, this number is also tied to your social security benefits for when you retire.

US citizens are now automatically assigned a SSN at birth. However, you can apply for a SSN regardless of your age. If you plan on living permanently in the US, you will be required to apply for one as it’s necessary if you earn any type of income in the country. 

Really, at its core, a  SSN is a way for the government of the United States of America to identify you. Once they have that number, they know where you live and how much money you are making so that they can tax you properly.

What Do I Need a SSN For?

You will need your SSN in order to do any of the following:

  • File taxes
  • Apply for a large loan
  • Work in the US
  • Apply for a job
  • Open a bank account or credit card in your name

What about if you’re an international student? You can absolutely apply for a SSN! However, if you don’t plan on doing any of the aforementioned activities, it might not make sense to apply for one.

Do International Students Need a SSN?

As long as you are allowed to be in the US, are currently enrolled in school, are able to provide proof of enrollment, and have a valid I-20, you can apply for and get an SSN as an international student.

However, international students must follow certain procedures in order to get one.


  • First of all, you cannot be employed before applying for one.
  • Secondly, if you are not eligible or able to work due your status or visa type, then you MUST apply for a Social Security Number from certain states. These are: Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.
  • Thirdly, if you are able to work in the US after being here long enough (generally after having your status changed from “student” to “worker”), then you  can request a SSN from any state and start working and filing for benefits right away (but you must be careful, students with visas like F1 or J1 cannot work even if they have an SSN).  

The real question at hand for international students is: why do you think you need a SSN? If the answer is only because you believe it to be the only way you can open a bank account then we’d advise you to keep looking at other options.

How to Open a Bank Account as an International Student Without a SSN 

First thing’s first. Let’s address why you are usually asked to provide a SSN in the first place. Namely, this is a way for the bank or financial institution to identify you. Why can’t they just use your passport? They want to make sure you’re in the American “system,” so to speak. This allows them to verify that you are who you say you are and that you aren’t trying to commit fraud or terrorism. In essence, it’s only because they’re trying to comply with The Patriot Act.

However, by law, a SSN isn’t technically the only form of identity that banks can accept. Most will also accept an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). 

Not sure what the difference is between an ITIN and SSN? Read more on our guide ITIN vs. SSN: What’s the Difference?

However, there are a few emerging banks who don’t request either of those forms of identification. Why? Because they (we) understand that that’s not very accessible for immigrants and international students.

For example, if you’re looking to open a bank account as an international student and you don’t have a SSN or ITIN, you can get a Cheese Debit Card! 

We view the Cheese Debit Card as an alternative to other debit cards for international students because we allow users to sign up with just an established US address, passport, and valid visa. 

What makes Cheese the best debit card for international students? Just take a look at a few of the top perks:

🧀️ No SSN Required

🧀️ You can apply for a Cheese Debit Card with an established US address, passport, and valid visa.

🧀️ Your money is FDIC insured for up to $250,000.

🧀️ You can receive a $5 sign-up bonus (that you’re also able to donate to one of our partner charities to support the Asian American community).

🧀️ There are no annual fees, no overdraft fees, and no ATM fees.

🧀️ You can earn 0.25% cash back on all purchases and up to 10% at certain retailers.

How to Get a Cheese Debit Card

While getting an SSN for international students is great if you’re planning on staying here long-term, it might not make sense for everyone. If your only reason for looking up online “how to apply for a SSN” is because you think it’s your only option for banking, then stop the search and just get a Cheese Debit Card for free today. 

First, download the mobile banking app for either iOS or Android. Then, follow the instructions to set your account up. It’ll take two minutes to complete the application process. And, remember, you can apply with an established US address, passport, and valid visa. Once you’re approved, you’ll receive your debit card in 7-10 business days. However, you can start using your virtual card immediately!

Click on the download links to get started. 🧀️

Cheese 银行卡 美国华人最好的选择
Cheese 银行卡 美国华人最好的选择